New Build, Old Build Update


Adirondack Spruce Soundboard, before thicknessing and jointing.

Adirondack Spruce Soundboard, before thicknessing and jointing.

I’ve begun on the first Portland-made Miller guitar! It’ll be Adirondack Spruce top and bracing, with Claro Walnut neck, back and sides. The fingerboard and bridge will be a very Brazilian-esque Palisander Rosewood, and the headstock will be very 1930s: black lacquered rather than veneered, tapered, and possibly with a stenciled logo. It’ll be very close to 1937 specs, with fresh hot hide glue, a through-saddle, and celluloid galore. Stay tuned!

This past weekend, Joanna and I performed and taught at the Olympia Old Time Festival. Plenty of fun, music, and guitar-geeking was achieved. You can check us out at

Here is the Coupe Duet playing at a local breakfast joint.  I am playing the Miller F5, and Joanna is playing an awesome x-braced Harmony conversion.

Here is the Coupe Duet playing at a local breakfast joint. I am playing the Miller F5, and Joanna is playing an awesome x-braced Harmony conversion.

Because the spruce has beautifully ambered, I figured that I would post some updated photos of the Roy Smeck Dreadnought. I’ve received a commission to build another one this spring; this will be a (late 20s) hand-rubbed sunburst with maple back and sides. Exciting!P1100965P1100975P1100977

INCA Table Saw and Veritas Jointer Plane!

P1100863Some satisfactions are more reliable than others; to the toolmonger such as myself, the acquisition of a coveted tool is hard to beat.

Today’s subject: two new-to-me tool acquisitions for guitar construction: A Veritas Jointer Plane and an Inca 250 Major table saw.

Both tools are central to the work. The Jointer plane is the Dreadnought of hand planes. It will get service in the Miller Guitars shop jointing top and back plates and truing neck blanks, among other shop tasks. It is a well-made tool, and takes fine shavings even before receiving a careful hollow grind and hone. After? A dream.

The Inca Table saw is especially interesting. Recently, I’ve been learning more about Inca, a Swiss company that made very high quality combination woodworking machines. While researching machine tools to complete my compact guitarmaking shop, the Inca tools seemed to fit the bill perfectly. They are smart, wonderfully designed and machined, with precision fit. They have a popular following among woodworkers, and as they have not been available for some time, they fetch a premium price in good working condition. When purchasing a 250 Major saw new, you would have had the option of getting a host of useful accessories such as a mortising table, tenoning jig, moulder, and various micro-adjusters, fences, and slides. My saw had a fortunate start, having all the bells and whistles installed from the get go. When I saw a Craigslist ad go up for the saw, I hustled out the door and made the 2-hour drive to go pick it up. Happy day! And thus I go about, learning what all of the beautiful pieces do that came with the saw. Fortunately, there is ample information available on the internet. Now all of my crosscutting, ripping, fret-slot-cutting, and mortising needs are easy!

Build Complete, Bluegrass, and SNOW.

ivoroid cut by hand

ivoroid cut by hand











P1090275So, after 7 weeks of building, the dreadnought is together, fretted, inlayed, carved, and jsut about ready to be sprayed with lacquer. Unfortunately, we must first complete a finishing class before we will all cut loose in the spray booth. That means 7 weeks of practice sanding, color-matching, sunbursting, grain-filling, spraying, more sanding, etc. We’ll also have a Repairs Class, where we practice routing for pickups and necks in electric guitar bodies, make oodles of guitar nuts, and squeeze in some self-directed repair work. This will all of course be scrutinized by our stringent taskmaster, so I will be sanding my fingers to the bone! I’m pumped!

This past weekend the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association had it’s winter wingding at a big hotel just west of Minneapolis. A bunch of us old time musicians made our way out there, danced our hineys off, and played tunes to boot. I had a great time, hung out and played tunes with some great folks like Chirps Smith, Bill Peterson, and Clancy from Port Wing Donut Fame, not to mention the awesome Twin Cities crowd. I even got in some bluegrass and honky tonk while I was at it!

Next week is SPRING BREAK, and I’ll be living it up Midwest Style, going to a square dancing festival, skiing, hot tubbing, visiting luthiers (and saunas) from Northwest Minnesota clear down to Madison Wisconsin. Whee!

Voicing the Guitar

My wonderful Lie-Nielsen low-angle apron plane.  Not a required tool in the program, but such a help

My wonderful Lie-Nielsen low-angle apron plane. Not a required tool in the program, but such a help


An exciting event has come and gone; I have voiced my first guitar top.  Following the concepts of Dana Bourgeois and the guidance of my instructor, I flexed and tapped the braced top, listening for tone, sound quality, and response.  Bits of spruce bracing were shaved off, the height of the finger braces were lowered.  I’m using an exceptionally stiff piece of Adirondack Spruce (Picea rubens), so I was able to elegantly taper my braces into smooth arcs.  When finished, I could tap the top nearly anywhere and be met with clear, musical tones.  It felt like tuning a marimba key, shaving away bit by bit, until it seemed as good as it could be.  This should make the guitar truly speak.Image

Next, I quickly braced the back, which is a lovely peice of Claro Walnut from Oregon.Image 


So: the top and back are joined and braced, the rosette installed, the soundhole cut, the top and back are joined and braced; the sides are bent, blocks are glued in and shaped, half of the kerfing is glued, templates are made for neck and headstock shape. 

By the end of next week, I should likely have the box closed up, binding channel routed, fingerboard shaped and slotted, neck cut out and begun getting shaped, truss rod channel routed…

Meanwhile, back at home I’m graduating F5 mandolin plates, fabricating spool clamps, managed to get the 1-18 Martin copy (home build, starting last spring) going with the top and back joined, thicknessed and cut out.  I’m going full tilt, trying to stay productive and still get a nights sleep.  We had a great visit from a friend and prospective student from New Orleans; I’m sure he enjoyed our below-zero windchill (although it wasn’t too cold at 9 degrees F).  Till next time, friends.